Thinking Anglicans

Welfare Reform and the Church

On the evening of Sunday 7 July General Synod will debate this motion, to be proposed by Philip Fletcher, on behalf of the Mission and Public Affairs Council (MPA) of the Archbishops’ Council.

That this Synod, recognising that in times of austerity hard choices must be made between competing priorities, and acknowledging that reform of welfare systems is essential:
(a) affirm the need for a renewed settlement between the state, the churches and civil society in pursuit of social solidarity and the common good;
(b) call for close attention to the impact of welfare cuts on the most vulnerable, and for support for those not in a position to support themselves;
(c) decry the misleading characterisation of all welfare recipients as ‘scroungers’; and
(d) commend those across the churches who are working to support those most in need.

Synod members have been sent GS 1897Welfare Reform and the Church as background to the debate, along with two annexes prepared in partnership with the Church Urban Fund: Annex 1 It all adds up: the cumulative impact of welfare reform and Annex 2 Guide to welfare reforms 2010–2017.

The Business Committee’s report for this group of sessions (GS 1889) includes these paragraphs.

Welfare Reform and the Church

32. The Coalition Government’s goals of simplifying the welfare system and incentivising work have received broad support in principle across the Churches, but the practical measures and accompanying rhetoric of ‘strivers and scroungers’ have also caused disquiet. Clergy have daily experience of the problems parishioners face as a result of the impact of benefit changes and the vicarage doorstep is still a last resort for many who fall through the net. Benefit claimants are members of many church communities. In this context, both clergy and laity are alarmed at not only at the impact of changes on the vulnerable but also about the way in which such people are often characterised in political debate. The debate will give the Synod a chance to consider these pastoral concerns.

33. This short report from MPA (GS 1897) explores some of the theological and historical reasons for the Church’s interest in social welfare, seeks to place the debate within the context of the Synod’s earlier work on the financial crisis, and draws on the 2010 debate on The Big Society, to argue that serious welfare reform requires the rebalancing of responsibilities between the individual, the state and wider civil society, including new thinking about the proper role of the churches.

34. The aim is to help the Synod think more deeply and strategically about the Church’s potential and responsibilities without getting caught up in the party politics or simply engaging in hand-wringing. The short report is accompanied by two papers already produced by MPA in partnership with CUF – Annex 1 sets out welfare changes that are happening, and Annex 2 assesses their impact on claimants and their families.

John Bingham reports on this in The Telegraph today with Church of England faces fresh clash with ministers over welfare reform. It starts:

In a highly critical analysis of the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s overhaul of the benefits system, the established Church questions the “moral” case for such reforms in a time of austerity.

The poor and vulnerable, it claims, are bearing a “disproportionate share of the burden” from recession yet being “squeezed” ever tighter by the Government – while the rich are allowed to escape “largely unscathed”.

At the same time the Government has deliberately stoked up rhetoric characterising benefit claimants as “scroungers” and workers as “strivers” to gain “political capital”, it insists…

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